Paper Dummy


Or maybe it’s Congo.

Or Rwanda.

Odd, how he can’t remember which, can’t remember exactly which one of so many nightmare holes that was.

The failing equipment is vivid in his mind. He can still remember the codes painted on the metal, the sparks coming out of personnel carriers for no reason. The artillery fail-safes have been turned off, the com self-destructed. It’s as if the whole unit has been programmed to answer to alien commands that override what they need. Last man standing, hell, he’s not even upright. Don’t bother with the trigger stuck tight under his thumb, he ran through the last clip on that last wave of unrecognizable bug mods, things nobody has ever seen before.

Test-run, his brain screamed. And you’re the paper dummy.

It’s when the hum of bees goes away, when everything gets quiet again, that the dreams go really bad. That’s when sounds flay the skin and agony screams in colors. Burning down his whole right side and he watches the intricate bones of his hand appear from the crackling flesh and char–

“Drin,” says the voice, firmly.

He gasps at the shock of cold water on his body. He shudders, and shakes wet hair out of his eyes, and finds himself staring wildly around at the wet bathroom wall.

He’s standing, naked, in the middle of his own apartment bathroom, dripping wet, shivering, and there’s water splashed all over the marble walls because Dance has taken the shower wand off its hook and aimed it at him, right there in the middle of the floor.

Dance is naked and wet too. He has one hand out, ready to catch Drin if he looks unstable on his feet. He looks up at Drin’s face, nods once, and puts the shower attachment back up. He has to stretch to do it, straining his arm upward. He turns back to Drin and rests both wet hands on Drin’s hips. “All right?” he says quietly.

Drin can feel himself breathing in deep, hard, whistling breaths, as if he’s been running. He rests his hand on Dance’s shoulder, not daring to hang on as much as he’d like to. How the hell Dance ever got him marched into the bathroom during an attack that bad, he’ll never know.

Nobody else has ever been able to get near Drin in that state. Right after he got out of the hospital, he nearly killed someone once, a cute curly-haired history scholar, a complete innocent, a civilian with no idea what he’d done in hugging Drin too soon. He came rolling up in bed with his hands on the poor man’s carotid arteries, about to punch in that fragile hyoid cartilage like a piece of paper.

It’s been years since he had dreams like that. Back when he had no business sleeping in a bed with normal people. Used to be, he didn’t dare join them in oblivion. He slips away, gets up, works on his computer, catches up on sleep later.

But Dance– he’s been with Dance every last day he can manage, as if there may never be another night to hold him, feeling him breathe in his sleep. And tonight, in that big cool lonely king-size bed, with that warmth curled up at his belly, he just… went to sleep too.

bw soldier sitting behind gun
Temporary Solution

It’s been so long. He hasn’t forgotten, oh no, that never goes away. Maybe he just… hoped it had. Why have the fucking dreams come out of their hole again? He has no business putting Dance at risk like that. None. Even if the man is amazing in the dojo, Dance still sleeps.

“I’m so sorry–” he gasps.

“Shhhh,” Dance says, and puts his hand up on Drin’s mouth. “Shhh. Breathe.”

“Are you– did I hurt you?” Drin says, and his voice sounds weird, thin, reedy.

“No, I am fine.”

He wipes water out of his eyes. He gasps. “How did you– how–”

Dance gives a crooked little smile. “Our Drin went for the gun under the pillow first.”

“I don’t keep one in the house–”

“No gun was there,” Dance’s eyes are calm, serious, not even surprised. “And I am waking up fast.”

Drin nods. He can’t get his breath.

Dance gives a crooked little smile. “We’re okay, as long as no gun is there.”

“You–” Drin gets it out. “You know–”

“You saw how I am,” Dance says. “Bad dreams, crawling under things, trying to get away in our sleep. We know. Telling you some time, you will believe it then. Oh, we know. Can I hug you now?”

“Yes, oh God, please,” Drin gasps, and wraps both arms around Dance’s warm body. Bends, buries his face in the sheets of damp black hair.

“You’re here,” Dance says. “It’s all right. You’re here now.” His arms are very strong. Very strong.


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